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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Now Mets — and their opponents — have to deal with coronavirus issues

Empty stands are seen at Citi Field before

Empty stands are seen at Citi Field before an MLB game between the Mets and the Red Sox on July 29. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The first thing that came to mind Thursday afternoon when the coronavirus struck the Mets — during their trip to Miami, imagine that — was the ominous statement from Marcus Stroman just over a week ago.

The timing of Stroman’s decision to opt out was called into question, based on his already reaching his service-time requirement for free agency. But he also left us with these parting words in his explanation.

“You see us going to Florida soon,” Stroman said. “That was a big discussion I had with my family. Going to see the Marlins soon, that’s something I don’t want to be in that situation.”

This is why. Because the Mets  now are immersed in everyone’s worst-case scenario, dealing with two cases of COVID-19, a player and coach, that already postponed Thursday’s game with the Marlins and Friday’s Subway Series opener against the Yankees at Citi Field.

The Mets chose to fly back to New York on Thursday night, but the two infected members of their traveling party remained in Miami, along with the people they had been in contact with. As we’ve discovered around baseball, however, this may be only the tip of the iceberg,  as even one or two cases typically leads to multiple COVID-19 positives and the shutdown of a team’s schedule for a varying length of time.

The Marlins had 18 players test positive in a matter of days within the season’s first week. The Cardinals followed with nine players and seven staffers. Because COVID-19 spreads quickly and silently, the virus is frighteningly effective at cracking the best clubhouse defenses. Once a single person is infected, the only recourse is isolation, more rapid testing and contact tracing.

Despite Stroman’s cautionary words, he did praise the Mets for diligently adhering to MLB’s protocols and going beyond the minimum to protect the players. None of the Mets had ever mentioned being concerned about their safety, other than the informed risk that comes with playing in 2020.

“It’s something we have to trust,” manager Luis Rojas said last month. “We’re optimistic that moving forward, it should help keep guys healthy, which is a priority.”

It does. For a while. But any team that heads to Miami — one of the nation’s hottest of hot zones for the virus — is amplifying the risk to a potentially dangerous degree. We’re not saying this was bound to happen, but how can anyone possibly be surprised? Stroman essentially called it.

By now, we’re all familiar with the precautions: washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing. But none of this is 100%  guaranteed effective, and mistakes do happen. Fortunately, to this point, the vast majority of cases have been either mild or asymptomatic, other than Red Sox ace Eduardo Rodriguez, who is sidelined for the season because of myocarditis, a heart-related complication of the coronavirus.

Where the virus really has caused havoc is with the schedule. Counting the Mets, the total number of games postponed is  up to 35 — affecting 14 teams — with more certain to follow. Given the time needed to run through the necessary protocols, or what MLB likes to phrase as “an abundance of caution,” this Subway Series is likely to be delayed further, with the potential to create three days of seven-inning doubleheaders next weekend.

The Yankees are among the clubs who are well-schooled in these emergency procedures. While they’ve had their own cases — Aroldis Chapman, DJ LeMahieu and Luis Cessa — those all happened before Opening Day and didn’t disrupt the season. The Yankees’ schedule went sideways early on because of the Phillies, who were derailed by the Marlins’ growing outbreak in Philadelphia. As a result, the Yankees had to uproot travel plans and play the Orioles in Baltimore instead.

“It’s difficult, and as we’ve said, 2020 is like no other year,” Aaron Boone said Thursday after the Yankees’ 10-5 loss to the Rays. “In a way, we know what we signed up for. We knew that at times there was going to be challenges, obviously. We’ve already faced our own challenges. Other teams have had it significantly worse with actual outbreaks and things, so we’ll just continue to try and do our best and our part to be able to safely play games.”

The Mets have no way of knowing when they’ll be able to do so again. In these situations, MLB typically stretches out the wait, to allow for another day or two of testing on top of the standard protocols, just to be safe.

Whether this whole 2020 baseball undertaking is safe is another story. Wednesday marked the first time all season that MLB did not have a game postponed by the coronavirus — just rain — and the Mets ended that dubious accomplishment at one.

All the Mets can do now is try to contain the spread, hope for a speedy recovery and resume a season that showed a glimmer of excitement with three much-needed wins in Miami. At the moment, they have much bigger problems than losing.  

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